Title: The Wall of Storms
Author: Ken Liu
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Series? Yes, 2 of 3.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Harper Voyager Australia in exchange for an honest review.
NOTE: The following review will contain some spoilers for The Grace of Kings, the first novel within this series.
After reading The Grace of Kings, I knew that Ken Liu has changed the game for epic fantasy. With The Wall of Storms, he continues to push on the boundaries of expectations and raised the bar even higher.
The Dandelion Dynasty was established within the first novel, with the text raising some tough questions about the philosophy of governance in times of war. In The Wall of Storms, the book take these ideas one step further by discussing economic and infrastructural development in the time of peace. While that may all sound like cumbersome and tedious reading, The Wall of Storms manages to be a page-turner despite its hefty length and ambitious themes. It’s no secret that I adore Ken Liu’s writing, and The Wall of Storms has become my favourite of his published books.
One of the main problems I had with The Grace of Kings was the lack of prominent female characters. I can happily report that The Wall of Storms come with a cast of diverse and complex female characters, and they remain the driving force of the sprawling plot. I especially loved that variety in the strengths displayed by these characters, Jia’s cunning ambition, Zomi’s fierce intelligence, General Mazoti’s military expertise, and Thera’s natural aptitude for governance. There’s a complex web of relationships between these women, and watching them work together and against one another to shape the kingdom was an absolute delight.
As mentioned above, the plot of The Wall of Storms is riveting from cover to cover. The writing is equally captivating whether the book is focused on philosophical debates or engaged in battle scenes. Aside from the numerous schemes by the various members of the Dandelion Court, the book also explores the greater world by introducing a new host of characters from the distant shores. The book does falter a little bit structurally as it transitioned between the machinations within the Dandelion to the larger threat at hand – at times I felt that the first and second half of the book were entirely separate novels.
Using a real-world culture to shape a fantasy race can at times veer perilously close to cultural misappropriation, however – this book manages to avoid that thanks to the nuances within the world building. The text provides historical and social context for all of the elements it utilised from various cultures. For example, it was clear to state the significance behind the logograms – which drew inspirations from traditional Chinese characters.
Another noteworthy example is the text’s careful and neutral examination on the Lyacu’s traditions. As the Lyacu people were based primarily on Mongolian and Viking culture. I was initially wary they would be cast into the role of the aggressor. Fortunately, the book was careful to give these new characters clear motivation and history – and gave nuance to their portrayal. The mix of cultures itself is not new to the Dandelion Dynasty, with the kingdom of Dara being primarily an analogue of China – yet also having some minor Western influences. Personally, I thought the book was successful with its usage of existing traditions and cultures to create something new – but I think this will be dependent on the individual reader.
These books are constantly filled with surprises, and I love Ken Liu’s responsiveness to criticism by the way he constantly updates and improves his works. I can’t wait to see where the final novel in the Dandelion Dynasty will take its readers.